Cell phone medical help for third world

May 1, 2008 10:10:24 AM PDT
According to the World Health Organization, most of humanity remains stuck in the early 20th century, at least in terms of diagnosis. Millions of people don't have access to MRI, X-rays, or ultrasound technology, but UC Berkeley researchers announced a potential solution on Wednesday and it could be as simple as a cellular phone call.

How small the world has become, how connected. How we owe much of that to those palm-sized devices we've already begun to take for granted.

"Could you live without your cell phone?" asks ABC7's Wayne Freedman.

"Yes," a person answers.

However, the answer may be no if you follow developments in this UC Berkeley lab. It's a place where Ph.D.s munch on a big bag of candy for snacks and use individual pieces to simulate tumors.

"From a technological point of view it's very simple," says Dr. Boris Rubinski, a bio-engineer.

Dr. Rubinski and his team have built a device, which uses small electrical charges to look at tissue inside the body. They used a piece of candy in this experiment.

"You can see some of the details from measurements we too," says Yair Granot, a UC researcher.

So far, this is basic medical technology, but not in Third World countries. Hence the work in this lab.

"It turns out that three quarters of the world population doesn't have medical imaging which we take for granted," says Dr. Rubinski.

The idea is that medical imaging equipment, whether an MRI or an X-ray machine, is large, ungainly, expensive, and is hard to get around. It exists, but people can't get to it. So why not take the sensing portion and connect it with the brain portion by cell phone?

Now, they've found a way to do it by compressing the data to six kilobytes. With this system, doctors, anywhere could use inexpensive, portable sensors and upload their results into one big, remote computer. It would do the heavy calculating, and turn a cell phone into a medical monitor, all in a matter of seconds.

"The computer can be a very large, costly machine, but located in another part of the world," says Granot.

One more way for a cellular phone to save a life, literally.

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